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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 March 2006, 15:28 GMT
US captures 13 Somali 'pirates'
USS Gonzalez - file photo
The US warships were patrolling the seas off Somalia
Thirteen suspected pirates involved in clashes with the US Navy off the Somali coast on Saturday have been captured, a spokesman for the men says.

Saleban Aadan Barqad told the BBC that his men were protecting fishing stocks from foreign vessels when they were attacked by the Americans.

The group has demanded that the United States release the men.

On Saturday, the US Navy reported an exchange of fire between two of its ships and the suspected pirates.

One person was killed and five wounded in the incident, which happened early on Saturday as the ships were conducting maritime security operations, reports say.

No US sailors were injured in the incident.

According to the US navy, it is holding 12 suspects, but unconfirmed reports quote the men's spokesman as saying 13 men are in custody.

It is not clear whether the 13 men include the person killed in the gun battle on Saturday.

There are contradictory reports on how the gunbattle began.

Saleban Aadan Barqad said his men returned fire after being attacked by the American warships. But the US navy says the warships were targeted by the suspected pirates.

The ships - the USS Cape St George, a guided missile cruiser, and the USS Gonzalez, a guided missile destroyer - spotted a suspect vessel, which opened fire on them, according to a Navy statement.

They were patrolling the area as part of a Dutch-led coalition task force.

Dangerous waters

Hijackings and piracy have recently surged off the Somali coastline.

Rocket propelled grenades and other armaments seized by the US navy
The US navy seized rocket propelled grenades and other weapons

The area has become one of the most dangerous in the world for piracy since warlords ousted Somalia's former ruler in 1991 and divided the country amongst themselves.

The International Maritime Bureau has warned ships to stay away from the coast because of the attacks. It has recorded 37 attacks since mid-March last year.

Earlier this month, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan said pirate attacks were hampering efforts to bring food aid to Somalia.


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